United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Tribunal Blames Iran for Abuses

            On October 27, the Iran Tribunal charged that the Islamic Republic was responsible “for gross violations of human rights against its citizens under the International Covenant of Civil and Political rights” during the 1980s. The document is an interim report, with a full judgment expected in November. The tribunal was established by victims and their families in 2007 to increase pressure on the United Nations to investigate alleged atrocities. The tribunal, based at The Hague, has no legal authority but the participation of top international judges and lawyers has given it credibility. After the report’s release, tribunal member Geoffrey Nice, a former prosecutor at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, told Agence France Presse that “the most important thing is to leave a record.”

            The tribunal built on the June 2012 Truth Commission hearings in London. Almost 100 victims and experts have testified. The following are excerpts from the interim judgment.
 
            The Iran Tribunal has been a unique undertaking. For the first time, it has given victims an opportunity to address the world about atrocities committed in the Islamic Republic of Iran between 1981 and 1988…There are six forms of gross human rights abuses to which the evidence presented to the Truth Commission and this Tribunal point incontrovertibly: murder; torture; unjust imprisonment; sexual violence; persecution and enforced disappearance. As the prosecutor noted in his closing submissions:
 
            Firstly, the Islamic Republic of Iran committed murder. Nima Sarvestani’s documentary showed graves of executed prisoners stretching out as far as the eye can see; the gravedigger of Shiraz reported the delivery of sixty bodies on a single occasion, of victims at most twenty years old. Men were arrested at ten in the morning and dead by eleven; entire families were eliminated and whole wards purged; rows of prisoners were shot by firing squad, still breathing until they were finished off by coups de grâce; and we heard from this morning’s witness of how child prisoners were required to administer these coups de grâce; truckloads of bodies were tipped into mass graves. The Tribunal heard extensive evidence of the murder of minors. In no case was an execution ordered in accordance with due process. In 1988, pursuant to a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, over 5,000 political prisoners were killed (most were hanging) over the space of a few months.

            Secondly, there has been not one witness who was not tortured in prison, both physically and mentally. Prisoners were hanged from the ceiling by their arms, flogged on the soles of their feet, beaten, deprived of sleep, kept in solitary confinement, subjected to mock executions and forced to watch other prisoners being tortured – or were tortured in the presence of their children. Shokufeh Sakhi told the Tribunal how she was subjected to sensory deprivation in a dark box (the “coffin”) for hours on end, month after month. The general effect was to turn prisoners into zombies” by destroying their senses of self and dignity. Another witness told the Tribunal of the “psychological rape” that turned him into a “puppet”, who would shoot his fellow prisoners as member of a firing squad of tavabeen (repenters).


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